A while back, the owners of a long-since closed local bar and small concert venue decided to turn their empty space into a restaurant serving rustic Southern Italian cuisine. The dining room may be full of so much kitch that it looks like your crazy Italian grandmother’s house, but the food more than makes up for it. One of the menu items that I love is a squid and cranberry salad. I’m not sure how cranberries factor in to Italian cuisine, but I’ve tried to recreate the dish anyways.
A lot of the ingredients below are listed with only vague quantities. This recreation is not exact, so play with it a bit to suit to your liking.
Squid and Cranberry Salad
Prep time: A while. Cleaning squid sucks.
Cooking time: Not long, but there is a lot of downtime.
- A large stock pot with lid and steamer basket insert
- Sharp knife, bowls, strainer, and a small non-reactive lidded container
- A strong stomach, if you are cleaning your own squid
- 1 lb. whole squid, or maybe 1/4 lb pre-cleaned squid pouches
- A few fistfuls of baby arugula
- 2-3 tablespoons of dried cranberries
- 1 tablespoon of slivered, blanched almonds
- 6-8 Kalamata olives
- Your favourite balsamic vinaigrette
Clean the squid. This step is time-consuming, messy, and potentially a little bit gross. If you’ve ever cleaned your own fish or butchered a chicken, you should be fine. If not, just use pre-cleaned squid pouches. I don’t use the tentacles in this recipe, and I’m not really sure why. I just find the salad to be more aesthetically pleasing without them.
Everyone has their own method for cleaning squid, but this is what I’ve found to be the most efficient way, if you are careful. Place the squid face-up on the cutting board. Grab the tip of the quill with one hand while holding the body down with the other. Bend the tip of the quill back to snap off the bottom 1/2 inch or so and peel it out backwards, from the broken end to the tip. This will loosen up the innards, allowing you to pull the body and most of the guts out with ease, but be careful not to rupture the ink sac. Flip the pouch face-down and with a sharp knife, make an incision along the body of the pouch right behind one of the fins. Do not slice the fin off, as this is now your handle for removing the skin. Peel the fins and skin off like you were removing a sock by inverting it.
Now the remainder of the quill comes in to play. Hold the tip of the pouch in one hand, grabbing on to the quill through the flesh. Loosely place the fingers of your other hand around the open end of the pouch and push the tip towards the base. This will turn the pouch inside out, removing the rest of the quill and a big gob of slimy squid guts. Wash any remaining guts off of the former inside of the pouch. Slice the pouches into rings and put them into a bowl of cold water.
Put about an inch of water into the bottom of your stockpot and bring it to a boil. Drain and dry the squid rings and cook them in the stockpot’s steamer basket for a minute and a half to two minutes. Immediately plunge them into a bowl of ice water to prevent them from overcooking. Drain and dry the rings again. Put them into the small, non-reactive, lidded container with your favourite balsamic vinaigrette and shake them around to coat. Let them marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
I use a very simple homemade vinaigrette for salads, and it works well with this recipe, too. The extra-virgin olive oil to balsamic vinegar ratio is decidedly in the vinegar’s favour. The only things I add are a pinch of garlic powder, a pinch of fleur de sel, an even bigger pinch of crushed red pepper, and some porcini dust. Porcini dust is absolute gold in the kitchen, and I sneak it into everything. When you buy dried porcini mushrooms, put them into a mesh strainer and shake it over a bowl. Put all of the tiny little fragments of mushroom that sift out into an small airtight container and guard it with your life.
Once the squid rings have marinated long enough, toss them and the remaining marinade with the baby arugula, cranberries, and slivered almonds. Garnish with a few Kalamata olives.
This won’t keep well. Servie it right after tossing.
It’s tart, tangy, peppery, and a little bit nutty. I haven’t gotten it to be exactly like the one at Zarra’s, but that just means I have to keep trying.